Girl Talk: Get the Breast Cancer Info You Need
When diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s crucial that women are given the information they need to select the treatment option that’s right for them. Too often, says leading breast surgeon Joanna Franks, they feel pressured, afraid and ill-informed.
Jo Franks is a breast and oncoplastic surgeon and lead consultant at UCLH (University College London Hospital).
Like many people who become doctors, Jo knew from the age of about two that she wanted to go into medicine, and when the time came to choose her vocation, she chose to become a surgeon: “We treat disease, whereas medics just control it,” she explains. “I decided to specialise in breast surgery because I felt it was a field where I could really make a difference.”
Asked what she particularly loves about her work, Jo explains it’s the chance to connect with patients. “I know I am taking them on a very difficult journey but I want to leave them feeling positive at the other end.” She believes it’s vital for women to feel they have a connection with their medical team: “Everyone is entitled to a second opinion on the NHS—not many people know that. So do be sure you feel comfortable with your surgeon and the entire team—after all, you’re going to be entering into a therapeutic alliance with them.”
Lumpectomy vs. Mastectomy? Take Time to Make the Decision
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, it is a huge shock, and
| “Being told you have breast cancer doesn’t mean you must have an emergency operation,” she explains. “For most
Long-term Breast Surgery Outcomes
Girl Talk: A Pre-surgery Support Group for Breast Cancer
“At our regional plastics
“I’d love to see more groups like this taking place. We women are very good at supporting each other —we just need the right environment to do it in.” Local breast cancer support groups and mastectomy boutiques might consider partnering with breast care doctors, who could refer patients to these “pre-surgery” information sessions. It’s just this kind of ‘girl talk’ that really helps patients feel educated, informed, and less alone.
Breast Cancer Support and Care in London
University College London Hospital is a designated centre for young women (up to age 24) with breast cancer, with extra support service facilities and a multi-disciplinary team. “One of my patients, aged under 24 and with two small children, had undergone lots of treatment, including bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and endocrine treatments that produce menopausal effects,” explains Jo. “She was emotionally very down and told me she felt unsupported in her local community—she felt she just had to get back to ‘normal’ really quickly. Meanwhile, her relationship with her husband was suffering. I suggested she go to The Haven in London—a wonderful breast cancer charity with several UK centres. Unfortunately, she felt she couldn’t get there while also providing continuity for her children, whose lives had already been disrupted during her treatment.”
Jo started looking around for other, more local, facilities where her patient could drop in for a coffee and meet up with women going through a similar experience to hers. “That’s how I discovered Future Dreams. Their mission is to open Future Dreams House in London to provide emotional and physical support and therapies to improve the life of anyone affected by breast cancer.”
In 2019 the lease on the building that currently houses The Haven in London will expire, and Future Dreams House will be the new—more central—home to The Haven, providing a lifeline to women and their families who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, those who are undergoing treatment, coping with the issue of survivorship or tackling the devastating news that they have had a relapse. The focus is on providing women with support away from the medical environment and giving them the tools to cope with their diagnosis and with life after treatment.
Jo’s subsequent involvement with Future Dreams led to her becoming a trustee of the charity, which recently collaborated with celebrity swimwear designer Melissa Odabash and Amoena to design a collection of mastectomy swimwear modelled by high profile breast cancer survivor, TV news presenter Jacquie Beltrao.
“I was really impressed by Jacquie’s openness in talking about her breast cancer experience, and I think she’s the ideal ambassador for Future Dreams,” says Jo. “We know that we are achieving more and more success with breast cancer treatment and that the women
Facing Breast Cancer Prepared: It Helps to Know
“When I do a mastectomy without reconstruction for whatever reason, I tell women there is specially designed mastectomy lingerie, pocketed swimwear and breast prostheses that mean they can do everything they did before, and no-one will ever know. Partial breast shapers and the right lingerie can also help with asymmetry in the case of reconstruction.
“The thing is, if you haven’t had to face this before, you would have no idea what’s out there. Knowledge is power.”